The first thing you should do….
Ask your relatives! I learned a lot from my mum about my grandparents – where they were born, when and where they got married, and whether they ever sought Canadian citizenship. This was incredibly useful in guiding my searches. She also got my uncle involved, who was able to find and scan several relevant documents! It turns out that he even had my grandparents’ original Italian passports! (This is extremely useful when applying!! More exclamation points!!!)
Going to the consulate…
You do not need an appointment to go ask questions or certify documents at the consulate (at least this is the case in Toronto and Montreal). I have been to the consulate 3 times (twice in Toronto, once in Montreal) and the staff has always been extremely helpful and pleasant. On my first visit, I was just getting started and needed some serious guidance. I had made an appointment for 11:45 (as I just mentioned, completely unnecessary), and though the consulate was supposed to close at noon, a staff member talked with me for a whole hour! Recently (January) I went back for a “progress check;” I walked in at 3pm, and was seen at 4pm* just as they were closing. The staff member did not rush me at all. She answered all of my questions and was very patient.
In Montreal, I was trying to get some of my documents stamped and certified. I was told I needed to go make some photocopies first, and to come back. They were about to close (what is it with me and just barely making it?), so I ran to the copy shop, and ran back – uphill both ways, with my poor aunt in tow (she was patient with me that day; I digress). It was almost lunch time at the consulate, and they were closing in 3 minutes. Still…I was assisted (with a smile 🙂 ), and not rushed at all.
My consulate experiences have been 11/10 so far. Fantastic service. If you don’t have access to a consulate in your home city…well….everything will be tougher. BUT there is always someone you can contact (the Consul General for your region, perhaps) who can give you specific guidance.
*still better than ServiceOntario
P.S. Don’t forget your PASSPORT! You are technically entering foreign soil (sort of), so it’s possible that you won’t be let in without it.
If you need vital records from Quebec….
It might be worth checking out the Drouin Institute. I was able to find marriage certificates for my parents, all of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my great-aunts and –uncles (most of these were not necessary for this process, but it was all very interesting!). The consulate requires official copies of parents’ and grandparents’ marriage certificates, but it was helpful to see the information, and it is useful for error-checking. This step is optional, but I found it well worth doing. I paid $5 for 24-hour access, but in some places (e.g. Toronto) you can gain free access through the library.